The Rise of ADHD in Women and Girls

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development (NIMH).

If you grew up in the US like I did, then in your childhood you probably had that one energetic boy in your class that everyone said had ADHD, or people joke when they were hyper from sugar binges that they were ADD or ADHD. It was never taken seriously and the kids who were loud or seemed to always get distracted seemed to be the boys. The ones who couldn't finish their work or struggled with their emotions tended to be the boys and their fits of frustration were deemed as attention seeking behavior.

What if I was to tell you that instead of a boy being the one with ADHD, it was a little girl? How would you describe her or how she acts? Would she be running like an energizer bunny or would be she the girl who is daydreaming and constantly starting new projects before finishing her first one? Truthfully, either of those scenarios could be true; and in recent years the number of ADHD cases for females has begun to rise as the symptoms that affect girls, which are sometimes ignored or not seen, are looked at with more scrutiny.

    In many cases, most girls are not diagnosed until later in life with ADHD, and at that point, most have either been diagnosed with another psychiatric condition such as depression or anxiety, or they have never been given an answer for their symptoms. The main reason behind why girls are underdiagnosed and boys overdiagnosed for this condition is societal expectations. Girls are told to be good and follow directions and tend to want so badly to be accepted and normal that they will hide the symptoms or channel their energy into other things that make it seem like they are just overly helpful. Since most of the criteria and data that is used has been collected from boys, it is understandable that girls are underdiagnosed as it has been shown that the symptoms of this condition not only vary in severity, but they vary across genders.

    Another reason why the amount of diagnoses are so different is due to education and understanding. Parents sometimes think that a child just isn’t focusing on a task and is purposely being defiant when in reality they are physically incapable of doing what they are being asked. When a child can focus on a video game, but takes hours to complete a simple homework problem, the parents can’t understand what the difference is between the two, and that difference is interest. When there is a lack of interest it is easier and more likely that a child with ADHD will lose focus quickly or make simple mistakes due to lack of attention.  

    Schools are just as uneducated about ADHD in girls as well. A large portion of parents rely on teachers as the first source of information as they deal with their children on a daily basis, but teachers lack the training or information to accurately diagnose or explain the condition to the parents. If teachers had more in-depth training on the signs and symptoms of ADHD and were given different coping mechanisms to help these children, then maybe there would be less of an issue when it comes to grades and acting out in class. This could also benefit the parents as they would not feel like their child is being singled out or being labeled as the nuisance due to a condition that they can’t control.

    Hopefully, with more women being diagnosed, there will be more data and a better understanding of how to recognize and diagnose this condition in young girls. An early diagnosis could allow a young girl to be medicated and start therapy before their erratic behaviors become set and make their lives more difficult the older they get. This also brings up a question of why society has such drastically different expectations of girls and boys and how these expectations should be changed in order to allow for people to be able to see and recognize symptoms before they become a major problem.






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